Column: Post-9/11 discrimination must end
By Deepa Iyer
Eleven years ago, on the first Saturday after the Sept. 11 attacks, a Sikh man was shot and killed in Mesa, Ariz. Flash forward to this past Sunday, when a gunman attacked a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., leaving six people dead. When will this end?
I have been asking myself this question over the past few days. Though Wade Michael Page, an apparent white supremacist, committed this massacre, each of us is responsible for what happens next. Our elected leaders, though, have a duty to take concrete actions to prevent another Oak Creek tragedy.
For many of us in the Sikh, Muslim, Arab-American or South-Asian communities, the recent tragedy is part of a history of bias and discrimination since 9/11. There has been a tendency to view the post-9/11 backlash only in the distant past. In the year after 9/11, anti-Muslim hate crimes rose by nearly 1,600%. Although these numbers have not been as high over the past 11 years, bias incidents continue to be reported and the climate of prejudice has arguably become worse.
It manifests itself in different ways: a mosque blocked for the past two years from being developed in Tennessee; a Bangladeshi cab driver brutally assaulted in New York because his passenger thought he was Muslim; and a mosque in Missouri destroyed by a suspected arson a day after the Oak Creek tragedy. It extends to politicians, such as Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., holding anti-Muslim hearings and Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., making unsubstantiated claims that disloyal Muslims are infiltrating our government.
While these sentiments have been described as racism, Islamophobia or xenophobia, they are all related. Our nation was founded on the values of pluralism and religious freedom. A murderous attack like this, targeting a single faith, is an assault on our American ideals, whether those targeted are Muslims, or Sikhs, or Jews, or Christians.
We must not treat this crime as an isolated incident, or the result of a person with an extreme view on race. In our increasingly diverse country, we have a responsibility to include individuals of different backgrounds and faiths in our society. For our elected officials, this means denouncing bigoted statements and actions, affirming our ideals of inclusion, and ending practices of profiling.
The list of names of people who have lost their lives for simply being of a different color or faith grew by six this past week. Let us commit as a nation to putting an end to this growing list, once and for all.
Deepa Iyer is executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together.